Choccy’s Diary: Mountain climbing and table topping

The mince pies might be moldy and the tinsel a little tatty, but there's no need to despair. It's the first diary entry of 2020 from everyone's favourite Scotsman - our very own Brian McClair...

Brian McClair

As it’s January, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy New Year and all the very best for 2020, whatever that might bring for you and yours.

I actually spent Hogmanay partaking in my favourite activity that is people watching at the spectacular Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.

It’s an extinct volcano which is the main peak of the group of hills in the nation’s capital that forms most of Holyrood Park, once described by Robert Louis Stevenson as: “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design.”

Needless to say, it’s a very popular destination with tourists and I spent an enjoyable few hours observing a range of folk from wannabe fashion icons in their brand new white trainers, to boyband lookalikes bedecked in Chelsea boots and even young mothers with buggies, first try and ascend this huge peak and then attempt to come down the other side.

Not surprisingly, I was treated to a fine display of visitors slipping, sliding and generally doing their very best not to end up on their backside, which several were unable to avoid much to my amusement; if only they had adopted the Choccy technique and been prepared.

Dressed in a pair of shorts and walking boots and armed merely with a copy of the Daily Record and a bottle of Irn Bru, I did my best Sherpa Tenzing impression and navigated my way to the summit and back down again completely unscathed.

New Year memories

Of course, being New Year it always brings back memories of some of the key games I played over this period in days gone by and I think it’s fair to say that my recollections are somewhat bitter-sweet.

A 3-1 win over Liverpool at Old Trafford on January 1st, 1989, springs to mind. A fine comeback victory having gone a goal down with 20 minutes to go, as we scored three in reply in a matter of minutes – an achievement nobody expected of us at the time against a fine Liverpool outfit.

United had a very young side back then with the likes of Russell Beardsmore, Mark Robins and Lee Sharpe coming through the ranks and it was Bearsdsmore who floated a lovely ball over for me to score one of my more memorable goals.

An acrobatic, over the shoulder, volley past Mike Hooper which my superfan/stalker informs me is still regarded as one of my best efforts by those old enough to remember it.

On the flip side, and also at Old Trafford on New Year’s Day, one of my most painful memories was being trounced 4-1 by Queens Park Rangers thanks to a Dennis Baily hat-trick which was broadcast to an audience of millions of hungover souls live on television.

The defeat arguably derailed United’s promising start to the season as we fell away after Christmas but, contrary to popular opinion, had nothing to do with the fact that the night before was actually the boss’s birthday bash.

I can assure you there’s absolutely no way Alex Ferguson would allow his players to go out drinking the night before a match, though whether the gaffer himself partook in a little pre-game partying I am unable to confirm or deny.

United back on track?

Bringing it back to more recent matters I feel that a couple of decent wins over the Christmas period has put United back into contention for a top-four place.

A lot, of course, will depend on how they get on at Arsenal on Wednesday night in what has always been a tasty encounter down the years.

I personally have plenty of memories of that fixture, including missing a last-minute penalty at Highbury in 1988 as United crashed out at the quarter-final stage; not to mention playing a minor role in a 20-man brawl at Old Trafford in 1990.

As for what happens this time around, it’s anyone’s guess as Solskjaer’s side have blown hot and cold in the same way that Arsenal have been of late.

But if the Gunners are as charitable as they were in the closing stages against Chelsea last week there might still be a few Christmas gifts to be given out.

In defence of Stevie G

It was interesting to see Steven Gerrard getting a bit of stick following the Old Firm game last week for his post-match celebrations and despite my old side Celtic being turned over at home by their arch-rivals for the first time in 9-years, I think he had every right to revel in the moment.

I know from experience how difficult it is to keep a lid on your emotions in such a white-hot atmosphere so if Gerrard wants to celebrate with the Rangers fans at the final whistle then good luck to him.

Personally, I felt Rangers were good value for their win and, like the League Cup final a few weeks before, were the better side.

I’m not entirely sure the win signals a power shift in Glasgow, but it certainly makes things interesting and I’m pretty sure the title race will go to the wire for the first time in a long time.

Mystic Choccy

Pep Guardiola

As for the year ahead, I’m still predicting a tighter finish to the Premier League season than many people anticipate and believe there is still plenty to play for, despite Liverpool’s healthy lead at the top of the table.

For me, I think the quality has been poor so far this season, apart from Jurgen Klopp’s men of course, but I’m not writing off City by any means as I do feel like Liverpool have a slip to come and I’m still backing Pep Guardiola’s side to snatch the title in dramatic style in the closing stages.

While I’m making predictions I also think 2020 will be the year that Juventus finally get their hands on the Champions League trophy.

They are far too good a side not to be crowned champions of Europe and with a few tweaks to their defence now look a lot more solid defensively, which is key if you are to win this competition.

Talking of winning things, I’m also calling a domestic cup double for Manchester United in 2020 as the FA and League Cups offer them the perfect opportunity of achieving glory in what has been a disappointing league campaign to date.

I just hope in a year’s time we are just talking about matters on the field at Old Trafford rather than off it, as the latest installment of the Paul Pogba situation and the ongoing speculation about his future, not helped by his motor-mouthed agent, is a distraction we can all do without.

Until the next time…

Slainté

Choccy

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